June 07, 2022

Mache lands NSF grant for cybersecurity education

Dr. Jens Mache, Professor of Computer Science, has secured a $138K grant for his proposed project, “Using Machine Learning to Provide Students with Rapid Feedback during Hands-on Cybersecurity Exercises.” Submitted in collaboration with Dr. Richard Weiss of Evergreen State College (total award $299,581), this three-year Engaged Student Learning project will be supported by the NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program in the Division of Undergraduate Education. IUSE, as indicated on the NSF website, is a “core NSF STEM education program that seeks to promote novel, creative, and transformative approaches to generating and using new knowledge about STEM teaching and learning to improve STEM education for undergraduate students.”

This collaborative project will benefit both instructors and students in Cybersecurity, which NSF identifies as “one of the defining issues of our time”. Specifically, Mache and Weiss recognize that while hands-on cybersecurity exercises have great potential, students benefit from rapid feedback to help them identify when they are heading in the wrong direction. The goal of this project is to apply reinforcement learning, which is a type of machine learning, to create, test, and deploy a semi-automated rapid feedback system within the EDURange platform. The improved platform will help instructors give timely feedback to learners engaging with cybersecurity exercises. Receiving immediate responses, rather than waiting until an exercise is graded, will both improve student performance and help instructors better identify problem areas and/or students who might need additional support. The team will address larger questions, such as “What reinforcement learning techniques will best allow us to make use of student-instructor interactions to maximize learning outcomes?” In addition to undergraduate participation during the academic years, the project budget includes support for Lewis & Clark students to engage in these research questions and data analysis during the summer months. More information about this project is available on the NSF website.

Dr. Mache joined Lewis & Clark College as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science in 1998. Since that time, he has secured seven grants and almost $800,000 in competitive funding from the National Science Foundation. All of these grant-funded projects have influenced the courses he has taught, to the benefit of Lewis & Clark students.